While its a given that fast foods and a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for that ‘spare tyre’ or ‘muffin top’, you carry around, did you know that certain types of hormones can also trigger weight gain? By Dr Sly Nedic
As we head into summer, we become more aware of our looks, body imperfections, and in particular, extra weight. In fact, our entire focus during this period is on how quickly we can get rid of our excess baggage. And in our quest to lose these extra kilograms as fast as humanly possible, we use (and abuse) all means necessary: Frequent gym visits, jogging, running, dieting, starving, and even aesthetic procedures. But alas – no matter how hard we try – this process is never as fast or successful as we want it to be.
We are what we eat
Okay, by now its suffice to say that most of us know how negatively fast food impacts our body. Yet we still reach out for that massive piece of chocolate cake or double-fudge ice-cream, all the while not thinking of the consequences when consuming these foods.
However, we need to bear in mind that these unhealthy food choices are more harmful to our bodies than we may think – with many of them influencing blood sugar control, ultimately leading to long term hormone disturbances.
Not only that. While carrying some extra weight around the middle (aka belly fat) is usually seen by many as just an aesthetic imperfection – an annoying feature that stops them from having that gorgeous summer body, this thinking actually cannot be farther from the truth.
What is our belly fat trying to tell us?
In the belly area, there are two forms of fat: Subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.
Subcutaneous fat is positioned right underneath the skin, and is often called ‘the spare tire’ in males, or ‘muffin top’ in females. And although this flabby bit is not exactly a desirable look, it is relatively innocent in creating underlying pathologies and hormonal problems. But if its present alongside visceral fat, it can become impossible to lose.
Visceral fat on the other hand (also called central obesity) refers to the fat situated inside the abdomen, and is tightly packed between the internal organs (liver, intestines, stomach, kidneys, spleen etc.). Visceral fat is metabolically active via inflammatory cytokines, and is responsible for the metabolic disturbance that affects the whole body.
Women usually develop visceral fat during peri-menopause and menopause (as well as in a highly stressful situation), yet men are somehow more prone to develop visceral fat at any age. Visceral fat is associated with serious health risks such as type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, inflamm-ageing and certain cancers (amongst others).
Belly fat’s link to raised insulin levels
Wrong food choices with a high glycemic index require increased levels of insulin to move the sugar into the cells quickly. This insulin spike then causes fat to be stored in the liver and the belly, which, over time, leads the body into a fat-storing mode that is difficult to change.
Unfortunately, this process in only exacterbated by our lifestyles – most of eat when food is not only consumed for hunger, but when we are stressed, bored tired, or solely for pleasure.
And when this cycle is repeated multiple times per day with the consumption of high glycaemic index and processed foods, the cells become resistant to the constant presence of insulin, thus creating insulin resistance.
This process perpetuates and directs fat to be stored in the liver and the belly, which ultimately contributes to severe health problems. Furthermore, overwhelming stress and constant ‘fight-or-flight’ adrenal response can increase the size of visceral fat – even if food choices are not altogether that bad.
In fact, stubborn belly fat that is non-responsive to correct food intake and exercise is trying to tell us that there is a more serious problem inside our body that needs to be addressed.
Production of wrong hormones in the belly
Belly fat (meaning visceral fat) causes different hormone disturbances, depending on which gender is presented. In women, the insulin resistance associated with belly fat decreases a protein produced by the liver called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG).
One of the functions of SHBG is to bind itself to testosterone in order to help with its transfer through the body, as well as to regulate the testosterone pool. Insulin resistance decreases SHBG, thereby enabling more testosterone to be free in circulation and available to the tissues. Too much free testosterone in women is not a desirable process, as it leads to higher levels of total androgens, which may manifest as PCOS, acne on the face, increased facial hair, as well as male pattern hair loss.
Higher testosterone also can aromatise into estrogen in the fat tissue, leading to estrogen dominance (this make a loss of weight virtually impossible). Furthermore, high estrogen affects thyroid hormone function, leading to hypothyroidism that immensely slows down metabolism.
In men, the process creates the opposite effects: insulin resistance leads to an increase in SHBG, which binds testosterone at an increased rate, generating less free testosterone available to the tissues. Men with low testosterone are less likely to build muscle mass and lose weight, but it can develop a higher risk for heart attack.
In addition, enzyme aromatase in fatty tissue increases the conversion of testosterone into estrogen, similar to what happens in a woman’s body – and its this decrease in testosterone and increase in estrogen that may lead to the development of breast tissue (gynecomastia). Moreover, elevated estrogen may contribute to hypertrophy in the prostate, while also contributing to decreased erections, moodiness, and irritability.
The good news is that we now have the precise tools to identify these hormonal disturbances with certainty. Hormone testing is a great way to take a first glance at these metabolic processes. And once the patients see these dangerous hormonal alterations in the tests that we present to them in the form of a graph (that is easily understandable), they regularly become very compliant in applying interventions.
Interventions and treatment
All interventions are done using the principles of integrative and evidence-based medicine.
We always intend to check what is the patient’ s predispositions to developing belly fat by identifying genetic makeup.
Likewise, we identify the epigenetic effects that contribute to it: Wrong eating plan, vitamin depletion, sedentary lifestyle, toxicity, gut issues, stress level etc. And as mentioned above, we document hormonal changes and the presence of visceral fat.
There is absolutely no guessing involved in this process. Results and explanation will serve as a tremendous motivational force for patients to apply prescribed interventions.
References available on request.
Written by Dr Sly Nedic – MBChB (Bel)
- Founder of 8th Sense Medi-Spa, Sandton www.8thsense.co.za
- Board-certified doctor of WOSAAM (World Organisation of Society of Anti-Ageing Medicine)
- Member of IHS (International Hormone Society)
- Member of A4M (American Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine)
- Faculty member of Preventive Genetics- Laboratories Reunis, Luxembourg
A2 Disclaimer: This article is published for information purposes only, nor should it be regarded as a replacement for sound medical advice.
This article was written by Dr Sly Nedic and edited by the A2 team EXCLUSIVELY for the A2 Aesthetic & Anti-Ageing Magazine Dec 2019 Edition (Issue 32).
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